Nicholas K. Geranios, Associated Press
The nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site is now its newest national park.
Thousands of people are expected next year to tour the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, home of the world’s first full-sized nuclear reactor, near Richland, about 200 miles east of Seattle in south-central Washington.
They won’t be allowed anywhere near the nation’s largest collection of toxic radioactive waste.
“Everything is clean and perfectly safe,” said Colleen French, the U.S. Department of Energy’s program manager for the Hanford park. “Any radioactive materials are miles away.”
The Manhattan Project National Historic Park, signed into existence in November, also includes sites at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. The Manhattan Project is the name for the U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb during World War II.
The park will tell the story of those workers, plus the scientists who performed groundbreaking research and the residents who were displaced, said Chip Jenkins of the National Park Service, which is jointly developing the park with the Energy Department.
“The intention of the park is to tell the full and complex and convoluted story,” Jenkins said. That story is still being developed, but will certainly include a Japanese perspective, he said.
“What happened at B Reactor changed the course of human history,” Jenkins said. “They went from sparsely populated ranching communities to the first packet of plutonium over the course of 18 months.”
Eventually, nine reactors were built at Hanford and operated during the Cold War to make plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. That work created more than 56 million gallons of radioactive waste that the government still spends more than $1 billion a year to maintain and clean up.
While details of the new national park are still being worked out, French said, the Energy Department will continue its tours of the B Reactor and the old town sites that began in 2009 and fill up with some 10,000 visitors a year.
The plan is to greatly expand the number of tourists and school groups who visit the site, she said.